One small region in Colombia is beginning to see the positive effects of cannabis legalization in the country. As normalization of cannabis medicines begins to spread in Latin America, regional areas, previously run by drug lords and rebel groups, are starting to reap the benefits of a regulated system that allows them to earn a legal and sustainable living.
Colombia initiated their medical cannabis legislation in 2015, and the local market is estimated to exceed $40 billion, annually. The country is known for its warm climate and fertile soils, with these strong environmental factors behind them, Colombia hopes to be a global leader in medical cannabis export in the future. Federico Cock-Correa, from the Colombian-Canadian owned company Pharmacielo, believes Colombia has the capacity to supply 20-30% of the global demand for medical cannabis. However, as it stands, regulations only allow for the export of cannabis products – not raw flower. The government has made this choice tactically, wanting the country to build its own processing industry with the intention to create jobs, boost the economy, and steer the population away from its prolific illicit drug market and towards a legitimate and regulated cannabis ecosystem.
Across the country, co-operatives of farmers are starting to professionalize their businesses, coalescing to form co-ops of up to 100 growers, with many signing agreements with local and international pharmaceutical companies. 91 cultivation licenses have been issued so far, with numbers expected to grow as medicalization takes hold.
In Corinto, a region in the south-west of the country, locals estimate 80% of the population illegally grows cannabis, though things are changing and farmers are beginning to see legal cannabis cultivation as a lucrative choice. In an area that predominantly grows sugar cane, there are clear benefits in switching to cannabis. Mass sugar cane farming poses various environmental risks and often does not supply enough for locals to support their families. By comparison, 8 hectares of sugar cane creates 1 job, where 1 hectare of medical cannabis is likely to create 10-15 jobs. This is significant for a population that has been so rooted in conflict, with few opportunities for legitimate and sustainable income over the last 5 decades.
Corinto’s local government, are pleased with the societal impact so far, as is the case in many areas throughout Colombia, where the same shift is taking place. Between cannabis legalization and peace treaties with FARC rebels, regions once flooded with crime and illicit drugs are slowly beginning to stabilize. It is clear drug lords and rebels continue their illegal cultivation, as their grow lights can be seen glowing across the mountains once the sun sets. Despite this, the local mayor is satisfied with progress so far and hopeful, predicting 1500 new employment opportunities will be created in the next year.
Widespread use, education, and normalization of cannabis medicine still have a long way to go in Colombia and throughout Latin America. However, towns like Corinto show the tangible positive impact that changes in cannabis legislation can have on a personal and societal level. .
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